All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; we all wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.
I. ALL IS NOT LOST TO THE TREE WHEN THE LEAF FALLS. The leaf has been a recipient from the trunk, drinking in its vital juices, but it has been giving as well as receiving; it has been absorbing sunshine and air and moisture, and has been passing these on to the trunk, doing this in the very act of decaying, so that when the leaf has fallen its most precious part remains behind. We are large recipients from the society to which we belong, but we should be continually giving as well as taking. Before we fall, and even as we fade, we may be, and should be, imparting wisdom and truth, all wholesome and helpful principles, a reverent and holy spirit, by which the community will be the better and the richer when we are no longer seen or even remembered.
II. THERE IS AN APPARENT BUT TREACHEROUS BEAUTY IN DECAY. The russet tints of autumn are very exquisite, but it is the beauty of decay. Each particular leaf is pitted and spotted and torn, and it owes its colour to the decomposition which has begun. So is it with some fair human institutions: there may be the grandeur or the brilliancy of external prosperity - superficially regarded they are interesting, fair, admirable - but there is no inward soundness; it is not the excellency of growing life we are looking upon, but the melancholy beauty of decay.
III. THE INEVITABLENESS OF DECLINE. A psalmist and a prophet speak poetically of" trees whose leaves do not fade." But such trees, we know, are not found in the vegetable kingdom. Human hearts need not fade. They who are ever drinking in the sunshine of Divine truth, who bathe in the waters of Divine wisdom, on whom fall continually the dews of the Divine Spirit - these are "trees planted by the rivers of water," and "their leaf does not wither; ' they keep their freshness, their purity, their joy to the last; they never lose it. But human lives must. We all do fade as a leaf; the time must be reached when the physical and mental powers begin to decline, and then life lessens in its force and its range from year to year, until the gust comes which brings down the faded leaf to the earth. Prudence may put off the date, but the experience is inevitable and must be faced. We must be provided with a true and real consolation.
IV. THE MINGLING OF THE GRADUAL WITH THE SUDDEN IN THE DECLINE OF LIFE. Everything, in the history of the leaf, is a gradual process, until the last killing frost or pelting rain detaches it from the bough. Death is seldom quite sudden, usually much less so than it seems. It is generally the case that the vigour of the frame has been impaired and the vital powers lessened before the attack proves fatal. We all do fade as a leaf; we decline before we die, we fade before we fall, we walk down the hill by many paces before we take the last step and touch the bottom. Yet is there, almost always, something sudden in the great removal. The day of the Lord still comes as a thief in the night.
V. HUMAN LIFE, UNLIKE THE LEAF, HAS NO FIXED TIME TO DROOP AND DIE. We know the season of the falling leaf, but the time of failing health and of the departing spirit we do not know. Well sings Mrs. Hemans -
"Leaves have their time to fall,
I. A HUMBLE CONFESSION OF SIN.
But we are all as an unclean thing.
(Prof. Skinner, D. D.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. Of the sins of their nature, of their persons themselves. "We are all as an unclean thing."
2. Of the sins of actions. "All our righteousness is as filthy rags."
3. Of the sin of non-proficiency, of obscuration, and senselessness, that notwithstanding the corrections of God, they were little the better. "There is none that calleth upon Thy name, or that stirs up himself to take hold of Thee.'
II. A HUMBLE COMPLAINT OF THE MISERABLE ESTATE THEY WERE IN BY THEIR SINS. "We all fade as a leaf," etc.
III. A HUMBLE SUPPLICATION AND DEPRECATION TO GOD (ver. 8, etc.).
( Sibbes, Richard, D. D.)
I. THE TAINT OF SIN, that from the springs of humanity has poisoned all its streams. "We are all as an unclean thing." When who has been convinced by the Spirit takes words and turns to God, he begins at the heart, as the spring whence the many unclean streams of thoughts and words and deeds flow out in the daily life. This simplicity is a mark of truth.
II. THE WORTHLESSNESS AND POSITIVE LOATHSOMENESS OF ALL THE EFFORTS WHICH A SINFUL MAN CAN MAKE TO SET HIMSELF AT FIRST RIGHT WITH GOD. "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." Most naturally this ingredient of the confession comes next in order. He looked first to his sins, and told what he thought of them; he next looks to his righteousness.
III. THE FRAILTY, UNCERTAINTY, AND SHORTNESS OF HUMAN LIFE. "We all do fade as a leaf."
IV. THE POWER AND SUCCESS OF INTERNAL CORRUPTION IN HURRYING THE MAN INTO ACTUAL SIN. "Our" iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." It is a mark Of true repentance when the penitent lays all the blame upon himself
V. THE INABILITY AND UNWILLINGNESS OF THESE HELPLESS SINNERS, AS THEY ARE DRIFTING DOWN THE STREAM OF SIN TOWARDS THE GULF OF PERDITION, TO LIFT THEMSELVES UP AND TAKE HOLD ON GOD. "There is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee."
VI. GOD'S METHOD OF DEALING WITH SUCH UP CASE. "Thou hast hid Thy face from us." The Holy One hides His face from His creatures while they live in sin. "And hast consumed us because of our iniquities." I prefer to take this clause in its most literal sense, as it is given in the margin — "Thou hast melted us by the hand of our iniquities." God melts the hardest sinners, and He employs their own sins to make the flinty hearts flow down. If this melting take effect in the day of grace, it is repentance unto life. But if the sinful are not so melted in the day of grace, they will be melted when that day is done. Their own sins on their own heads will be at least a material part of the doom of the lost in the great Day. After having looked to the text, we shall look at that which touches it, before and behind. The gem is the chief object of attraction, but its setting may be both beautiful and precious. The word that touches it on the one side (end of ver. 5) is, "We shall be saved;" the word that touches it on the other side (beginning of ver. 8) is, "But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father. It is not by chance that this great deep confession lies between these two words — is held up and held out in these two tender, loving hands. "We are saved by hope," not by terror.
(W. Arnot, D. D.)
Homilist.I. SIN IS A DEFILING POWER. "We are all as an unclean thing." Sin makes the soul as unlovely as a man in filth. The soul ought not to be unclean. The stain of sin does not belong to it, it is separable from it. Once the soul had no stain.
II. SIN IS AN IMPOVERISHING POWER. "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." Moral character is indeed the garment of the soul, the garment which it weaves out of its thoughts, emotions, purposes, and actual deeds. This garment ought to be one beautiful whole, and clean also. But through sin it is all in "rags." There is no unity, no wholeness, no completeness. It is all in tatters, and filthy tatters too. Sin indeed makes the soul ugly and hateful. How unlovely is every aspect of sin.
III. SIN IS A WITHERING POWER. "We all do fade as a leaf." Sin blasts the hopes, pollutes the loves, curtails the liberty, dims the vision, deadens the conscience, and enfeebles all the faculties and powers of the soul.,
IV. SIN IS A VIOLENT POWER. "Our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away."
(Homilist.)I. I HAVE TO DESCRIBE THE VIEW WHICH EVERY TRULY GRACIOUS SOUL WILL TAKE OF HIMSELF.
1. Every gracious soul who is truly enlightened by the Spirit has a clear sense of the root of all his guiltiness. He knows the plague of his own heart, and cries, "We are all as an unclean thing. He discovers that not merely his outward acts, but his very person is essentially sinful in the sight of God.
2. The spiritually enlightened man then perceives that all his actions are evil. "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." If our righteousnesses are so bad, what must our unrighteousnesses be?
3. The enlightened heart into which the candle of the Lord hath shone, is led to see the failure and futility of all its resolutions to be better. "We all do fade as a leaf." Our best professions, hopes, resolutions, and pretensions — all of them fade like shadows, dreams, and fancies of the brain.
4. But the truly awakened soul knows a fourth thing, namely, that he is not in himself able to stand against the invasions of temptation, for the text has put it — "Our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. When men find that their vows wither, yet they will still hang to their hopes, and to their moralities; but some strong temptation comes unexpectedly upon them just at the moment when their mind is susceptible of its power, and where are they? The temptation comes like a howling north wind at an unexpected moment, and where is your man now? Unable to resist, carried away by the very vice which he thought he had renounced.
5. Those souls upon whom God's sunlight had once shone are also painfully aware of their own natural weakness and slothfulness in prayer. "There is none that calleth upon Thy name,' etc.
6. That soul which has once perceived itself in the black colours of its iniquity, has discovered that through sin it has lost all the favour and love of God which might have come if it had been without sin, for so saith the text, "For Thou hast hid Thy face from us, etc. it is no thing to play with that hiding of God's face. When the prophet says, "Thou hast consumed us, it is a dreadful word.
II. There is a danger I must warn you of, and that is — DO NOT BE CONTENT WITH THE MERE KNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS SO. You must not merely know that you are lost, but you must feel it. Do not be content with simply feeling that it is so, but mourn before God that it is so, and hate yourself that it is so. Do not look upon it as being a misfortune, but as being your own wilful sin, and look upon yourselves, therefore, as being sinners, condemned already, not only for all this, but condemned because you believe not on Christ, for that after all is the crowning condemnation. And when you really feel your sinfulness, and mourn it, do not stop here; never give yourself any rest till you know that you are delivered from it.
III. THE TEXT SEEMS TO SUGGEST SOME PLEAS. Poor troubled soul, I am afraid thou canst not use the first one mentioned in the text — "Thou art my Father! " I am half afraid you have not faith enough for that, but if you have, what a prevailing plea it is! "My Father, I have sinned, but I am Thy son, though not worthy to be so called; my Father, by a father's love forgive, forgive Thine erring one; by the bowels of Thy compassion have mercy upon me! " You who have backslidden can plead this, for you know your adoption. But if that should be too hard for you, take the next plea. Say, "Lord, I am the clay and Thou the potter; I am helpless like the clay which cannot fashion itself; I am worthless like the clay that is of no value; I am filthy, Lord, like clay! I am only worthy to be trodden under foot, but Thou art the potter, and potters can make fine things even of clay. Here I am, Lord; I put myself into Thy hand. I am nothing; make me what Thou wouldst have me to be.' Will not that plea suffice? But hark thee, sinner. There is a sweeter plea than any in the verse before us, for this is an Old Testament text; but I must take thee to the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for the plea that never fails. It is this, "Lord, it is written that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; if there was never a sinner in the world but one, that sinner I am. I trust myself in His hands to save me." It is done, it is done. You are saved; you are "accepted in the Beloved."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)1. The greatest and noblest souls, striving after the loftiest and divinest aims, have been most sensible of fault and failure in their lives, and have in their confessions borne hardest upon the weakness and sinfulness of human nature. Not when men are sunk in depths of vice and sensuality; but when they are struggling upwards to difficult, impossible heights of virtue and nobleness, are they seized with the "strong crying and tears" which pours itself forth in such language as this, in David's fifty-first psalm, in Paul's "I am the chief of sinners." It is not the utter depravity of human nature, but rather a rare goodness and nobleness which expresses itself in the language of confession, of which this is a specimen.
2. Read it thus, and it is true and simple. Apparently when the prophet wrote these words his countrymen had just returned from captivity, and were again established at Jerusalem — Jerusalem laid waste, and its crown and ornament, "the holy and beautiful house of God," trampled in the dust. Something had been learned by the captives in their long and miserable exile. There was a lesson taught them now by their desolate homes and overturned altars. But still, to an earnest and far-seeing mind, there was manifest the need of a much wider and deeper religious reformation than had yet been accomplished. Before the nation could be again what it once was, it had much to learn and much to unlearn. It was a superficial and partial work which adversity had yet done in the way of curing the evils which had brought adversity in their train. With painful certainty and distinctness this was evident to the prophet. His soul was burdened to think of it, and he burst out, in his grief, with the confession as for himself and his country — "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
3. It is easy to imagine a prophetic mind of our own country and our own time using similar language to express similar feelings. We have a great deal to be proud of as a nation. Much that is British is great and noble. On the surface of things we appear to be a very religious, as well as an industrious and prosperous people. Our Protestant institutions are, no doubt, many of them admirable. But can you imagine any very sincere, penetrating, religious mind, one impressed little by material prosperity and sensitive to moral and spiritual conditions, looking beneath the surface of our national life, contemplating all the dishonesty in trade and manufactures, the corruption of morals among the rich, the low intelligence, superstition, vile tastes of the mob, the religious cant and conventionality, the bitter rivalry of sects, which exist along with our Protestant institutions, and not be forced to say — "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away ' — we are not a great and glorious people; "we all do fade as a leaf"? As the language of confession — confession being the act not of the vile, but of the noble — we read this language, and the application of it to national life is plain.
4. In this light it is no less easy to apply it to individual life and conduct. Strive to be true and good after the example of Christ, and it will be easy, perhaps, to satisfy both the world and the Church that you are successful in the endeavour; but if your aim is really to live Christ's life you will not so easily satisfy yourself — you will only at the best succeed far enough to be conscious of immeasurable failure. Compared with the good you ought to win, any good to which you attain will appear to you miserable failure. Thus, this language in its own light is easily seen to be true. In any other light it is false. He that doeth righteousness is righteous. I know that right things may be done from wrong motives, and with inferior views, and I know that they are not then of the same quality or value as if they were done from right impulses and with the highest aims. I know, too, that if a man breaks one of the commandments he is in a sense guilty of all, and cannot set himself up as a perfect man, or as a more deserving man than another who has broken all the ten. But then right is right, and wrong is wrong, be it in saint or sinner, and nothing can make these two opposites change places, or have the same character or issues. Wrong is eternally to be feared and hated; right is eternally to be loved and sought after. Suppose you know you are wrong in much, if there is anything in which you are right, do not consider that to be filthy rags — die rather than surrender it to force or fraud. It was not to render our righteousness superfluous, or to certify that any of our righteousness is worthless, that Christ lived and died; it was to make us truly righteous, to bind us in a new covenant with God our Father, to be the servants only of righteousness.
(J. Service, D. D.)
All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.
(H. Rose Rae.)
We all do fade as a leaf.
(J. M. Whiton, D. D.)
1. A single elm has been computed to possess in one summer five acres of leaves; each leaf a wonderful tissue of nerves and pores and cells and veins. In these countless cells, invisible to the unassisted eye, the sunlight enables the living plant to do its work. In these cells the mineral matter ascending from the roots dissolved in the sap, and the gaseous matter drunk in through the pores from the air, are mingled, and converted by the chemistry of the sunbeam into food for the tree. This then is carried by the leaf-veins into the twigs, adown the branches and the trunk, and is deposited under the bark in a ring of woody fibre. Another portion also goes to form the nutritious fruit and another the reproductive seed. Thus the frail leaf, gay, beautiful, musical as it is, is yet ever at God's work, providing man with material for the necessities, comforts and luxuries of his life. Most true, in creation as well as in redemption, is the apostle's saying, that "God hath chosen the weak things of the world, and things which are despised hath God chosen."
2. But this is not all of the useful duty to which God has chosen the fair and short-lived leaf. The gas which the leaf-cell sucks from the air, and helps to change into fibre, is poisonous to animal life, and must not accumulate in the atmosphere. The same office that the coral insect performs for the sea, to keep the great fountain of waters pure, the leaf performs for that aerial ocean from whose pure tides we drink our life. A mark of dignity has the Creator bestowed on all useful labour, however humble, by giving the glory of the forest, and the beauty of the many-coloured coralline gardens beneath the waves, to organisms that discharge for Him the duty of scavengers! The carbonic acid gas produced by all our fires, and by the myriads of breathing creatures, is absorbed from the air by the leaf through its countless pores. In the leaf-cells, this noxious element is decomposed; part is worked up into food for the tree, and the residue, containing all that is fit for animals to breathe again, is given back to the vital air. Measure, if it were possible, by cubic feet of wood, all the trees upon the globe. Forty-five per cent. of the whole mass is the solidified poison of the atmosphere, extracted by the subtle chemistry of the leaf. How grandly beneficent is its humble life?
3. The leaf draws water from the ground through the thousands of tubes in its stem — eight hundred barrels, says a scientist, from every leaf-covered acre every twenty-four hours. This it gives out to the atmosphere in the form of invisible vapour, to be condensed into clouds and fall in showers — the very water which, were it not for the leaf, would either escape in freshets or filter through the ground to the caverns below. Thus the leaf works to bring upon the earth the early and the latter rain.
4. And now comes on its change. It is a change that comes most naturally and honourably as the leaf fulfils its beneficent tasks. It is in and by its useful work that the leaf changes from the pulpy thing it was in May to a thing of firmer texture. And so we learn to look upon it rather as a ripening than a decaying, when, as its work draws near the end, it begins to borrow less from earth and more from heaven. The splendours of October, surpassing the tenderness of May, and the sober dignity of August, fitly crown the close of a life that has been so useful.
(J. M. Whiton, D. D.)
(J. M. Whiton, D. D.)
Homiletic Magazine.Three applications of the prophet's language —
I. TO MAN, AS HE IS A SINNER. Man's condition through sin is the primary idea. "Our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away."
1. The fading leaves are separated from the source of their life and growth and beauty. They are no longer in vital union with the root of the tree. They may hang for a while, but are sure speedily to fall. Any passing gust may carry them away. The soul of man through sin has, lost spiritual with God, the source of its true life, and has become faded and shrivelled through the separation.
2. The fading leaves yield no response to, receive no benefit from, the natural influences that act upon them for their life and growth. The prophet says of Israel, "There is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee."
3. The fading leaves, as they fall from the tree, are out of their true sphere, and exposed to all degrading forces. The prophet has in his mind leaves that had faded unnaturally, and that should still have lived in greenness and beauty upon the tree. Lying on the ground, trampled down by man and beast, when they should have been waving high like a warrior's plume. Man through sin has fallen from his true sphere. He is the sport of evil passions, subject to all degrading and hurtful forces. The emblem of his condition is a faded, fallen leaf, whirled about by the winds, trampled down and tossed about by man and beast.
4. The fading leaves are practically useless and worthless. They are of no value to the tree, nor yet to man. A sinner is one who renders no true and intelligent service to his God, and brings no real benefit to the great tree of humanity.
II. TO MAN, AS HE MORTAL. In man, as in nature, the same law of decay is acting.
III. TO MAN, AS HE IS A CHRISTIAN BELIEVER. Reversing the picture, and excluding the prophet's application, there is hope and consolation spoken by the fading leaves.
1. The fading ]eaves have fulfilled the purpose of their being and life. The Christian, whether he fade soon or late, has not lived in vain.
2. The fading leaves are clothed with the richest and most varied colours. The Christian, us life is closing, often shines with a spiritual richness and lustre never seen before.
3. The fading leaves tell of the infinite skill and care of the Creator. Wonderful is the interest God takes in His people. "Not one faileth to the ground without your Father."
4. The fading leaves do not perish. They come back in other forms, and serve other uses. The Christian can take higher and surer ground. He shall live again, live the being he now is, live never again to fade.
(Homiletic Magazine.)I. LEAVES FADE GRADUALLY. The whole foliage of a tree does not fade and pass away at one time. Some leaves droop and wither even in spring, when the rest of the foliage is in its brightest and most luxuriant beauty. Some are torn away in summer, while green and full of sap, by sudden and violent storms. The great majority fade and fall in autumn; while a few cling to the branches all through the cold and desolation of winter, and are at last pushed off by the unfolding buds of the following spring. And is it not so with every generation? Decay and death everywhere and always reign. But all do not fade at the same time. Sonic die in the spring of life; some are cut off' suddenly, by accidents and fatal diseases, in ripe manhood; some fade naturally in the autumn of old age. A few survive their generation, like the last red leaves that rustle mournfully in the winter wind on the topmost bough of the tree. Friend after friend departs, family after family disappears, until the mournful record shall be written of us as it was written of the Hebrews of old — "And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation."
II. LEAVES FADE SILENTLY. All the processes of nature are silent and secret. It is God's glory to conceal a matter. And so silently do we all fade.
III. LEAVES FADE DIFFERENTLY. The autumnal foliage is very varied. No two species of trees exhibit the same appearance. And are there not similar differences in the way in which men fade and die? In the hey-day of life and happiness they may seem all alike, uniformly fair and attractive. But when death comes, it shows the true character of each. Its approach makes some men gloomy and sombre. It invests them with a dark and repulsive aspect. It clothes them with despair. But how widely different is the dying of the Christian! The idea of death to them has nothing death-like in it.
IV. LEAVES FADE CHARACTERISTICALLY. The foliage that is gloomiest in its unfolding, is most unsightly in its decay; and the leaves that have the richest and tenderest shade of green in April, have the most brilliant rainbow hues in October. The leaf of the sad and sullen ash is the last to kindle its bud, and the first to wither and fall; and its colour, always sombre, becomes blackened and disfigured in decay. The leaf of the linden tree, on the contrary, is beautiful from first to last; softly green in spring; fragrant in summer with delicate frankincense, and musical with the hum of bees, revelling in the honey-dew bloom; and gorgeous as a sunset-cloud in autumn. And so is it with man. "He dies as he lives. A life of godliness ends in a saintly death; and a career of worldliness and sin terminates in impenitence and despair. And as the fading itself is characteristic, so also are the results of the fading. The leaves of some trees when they fall, leave no trace what. ever behind. The scar left by their removal heals immediately; and on the smooth, naked bark of the bough, in winter, there is no mark to indicate that it was once covered with foliage. There are other trees, however, on which the scars are permanent. Many of the characteristic markings on the stems of palm-trees and tree-ferns are due to the permanence of these scars, when their leaves have decayed and dropped off. And is not the lesson of analogy here very clear and impressive? How many there are who fade and drop off from the tree of humanity, and leave no trace of their existence behind. Others there are, large-minded and large-hearted men, who live not for themselves, but for the glory of God and the good of their fellow-creatures; these when they fade and drop off the tree of life, leave behind them an impression which time will only make deeper.
V. LEAVES FADE PREPAREDLY. No leaf falls from the tree — unless wrenched off suddenly and unexpectedly in early growth by external violence — without making due preparation re. its departure. Before the slightest discoloration is seen upon it, there is a secret adequate provision made by nature for the inevitable hour of its passing away. Side by side with it, even in its summer beauty and luxuriance, it carries the memorial at once of its death and of a new birth. It bears the young bud that is to usurp its place in its bosom, and nourishes it with its own expiring life. This law of the vegetable kingdom is one that knows no exception. No leaf drops till a new one is prepared to take its place; no flower perishes till its house is made ready and filled with seeds. Alas, how different is it in human economy! Provision for the future is with man not the law, but the exception, of his conduct. Should we not imitate the example of the leaf in which the process of preparation for the future keeps pace with the process of decay?
(H. Macmillan, D. D.)I. THIS LEAF TEACHES US THE GOSPEL OF SERVICE. It has lived, it has had its day. It falls to perish by the wayside, but it has not lived in vain. When that leaf breathes it takes up carbon and exhales oxygen. When we breathe we take in oxygen. You could not live without the leaf. It keeps the atmosphere pure. It prevents it from becoming poisonous. You are indebted to the leaf for your life. But you say, "That, after all, is but a selfish life; the leaf takes up what it requires, and it throws off what it does not require. Where is your gospel of service in that?" Yes; but it does something else; while feeding itself, it also feeds the tree upon which it grows. It is making the timber as well as satisfying its own needs. Without leaves we should have no wood for our houses, our furniture, or our fires. They die, leaving others to carry on their uncompleted work, but they always build firm, and straight and beautiful. So this little preacher says to us, "Live for great purposes, build for the future. You are but one unit in the great mass of living, toiling men, but remember that you can do a work for the generations to come. Leave the world fairer, and better, and stronger, and sweeter because you have lived. Men die, but man remains. You will go as your fathers have gone before you, but Society will remain behind." And then there is such a thing as service continuing after death. "Dead and done with is not true of a leaf, much less of a man. The scientist tells us how by its decay the leaf is changed into vegetable mould, indispensable for the life of other leaves. Thus the decay of vegetation prepares the way for a new vegetation, and death prepares for life. So also is not a man done with when he is dead. There are many who rule from their graves.
II. THIS LEAF ALSO PREACHES TO MEN THE GOSPEL OF A TRIUMPHANT DEATH. How beautiful Nature is, even in decay i Like an Indian warrior chief, she gathers around her her finery in order to meet death. So the gospel that the leaf has to teach us is a hopeful and a bright one. It is the lesson of triumphant death. After this life, another. "How are the dead raised, and with what manner of body do they come?" is an old question. Where will the leaves of next spring come from T Is it a more wonderful thing to clothe the living soul with a new body than to clothe the apparently dead tree with a new and beautiful foliage?
(S. Horton.)I. THE LEAF FADES SURELY. If there is one thing more absolutely and infallibly certain than another, it is that we all die (Genesis 3:19; Hebrews 9:27). We die at every age.
II. THE LEAF FADES SOON. Some kinds of leaves last longer than others; but, as a class, their natural life is a single summer. There is prodigality in this. If economy of life were aimed at, the leaf might last much longer than it does. So might the May-fly. So might man.
1. What a testimony to the wealth of creative energy!
2. What an argument in favour of economizing time!
3. What a spur to the life of watchfulness!
III. THE LEAF FADES WHEN THE ENDS OF ITS EXISTENCE HAVE BEEN SERVED. "None of us liveth to himself;" nor could we if we would.
IV. WHEN THE LEAF FALLS IT PROVIDES MATERIALS FOR THE FOLIAGE OF ANOTHER YEAR. The fall of a leaf and its decay are not the end of it or of its work. There is something still for it to do, and which it never could do till then. Decaying leaven are the earth's great fertilizers. The thing we do is immortal whatever its moral quality. The father, the mother, live again in children moulded by their influence. Of all responsibilities there is none so terrible as this. We are contributing, by our life, a poison or a honey drop to the life-cup of posterity.
(J. Edgar Henry, M. A.)I. LET US ENDEAVOUR. TO DISCOVER WHAT IS IMPLIED IN THE DESCRIPTION OF DEATH GIVEN US IN THESE WORDS.
1. We fade, like the leaves, soon.
3. The approaches of death may be lovely. The woods are never more beautiful than during the brief period of autumnal change. So our time of decay may be more beautiful than our summer time of health and activity, and "nothing in our life become us like the leaving of it." The hoary head becomes a crown of glory, — the patience of' the Christian vanquishing the temptations to petulance and repining that affliction presents, — the hope of the believer shining clear and steady when he knows that he must soon depart, — are things that often give to the approaches of death more interest and loveliness than life has enjoyed.
4. "We all do fade as u leaf" in point of certainty.
5. How wide is the empire of death, and how many he has brought into his dark dominions; in every track the leaves are falling, and no favoured portion of the country escapes the general desolation. How many autumns has death had among men since first his reign began! Our fathers, where are they? Where are those hordes of painted barbarians, whose savage courage stayed so long the progress of the Roman legions? Where are those who erected in our land those ancient piles that were dedicated to the worship of God amid the darkness of the Middle Ages Where are those who led the devotions there, and those who joined in them? Where are they who but a hundred years ago ploughed the fields that you now cultivate, listened to the Gospel that is now proclaimed to us, and walked in the paths that we are accustomed to tread? They are gone, and we arc going fast.
II. THE PRACTICAL USE THAT SHOULD BE MADE OF THE TRUTH BROUGHT BEFORE US IN THE TEXT. The .great lesson we should learn is to make ready for our fading time. But there are various circumstances that go far to account for this very common, almost universal forgetfulness of death. First, one cause may be. that we see little of the sick and dying. In the next place, death has no periods corresponding to the general fall of the leaf. Again, when we are in the enjoyment of good health, we feel nothing death-like about us. Then our worldly employments accustom our minds to a different train of thinking from that more serious one which brings death to our view, and tend to turn our thoughts from it. But the chief cause of the forgetfulness of death is to be found in the systematic attempt that is made by most men to banish the remembrance of it from their minds.
I. TO THE NATURAL VIGOUR OF MAN.
II. TO THE MORAL BEAUTY OF MAN. That goodness which natural conscience, enlightened by the words of revelation, produces; that goodness which is the effect of imitation, and the offspring of moral rather than pious principles; and of conviction rather than conversion; is fading as the frailest leaf of the frailest plant, and transient as the morning cloud and the early dew. Let it be exposed to the wintry blasts of adversity, or to the scorching sun of persecution; place it in the cold atmosphere of the world; and let the chilling influence of the world's indifference be felt by it — and what appearance does it assume? It is fading as a leaf. If your goodness fades as a leaf, have you not much need of being born of that incorruptible seed which liveth and abideth for ever? But even then you will feel yourselves subject to a measure of the same instability and decay. For the words of the text and the whole passage in which they are found seem to be a description, not of careless sinners without grace, but of the people of God, in all the declensions to which they are liable in their best estate.
I. OF THE ABIDING SUPERINTENDENCE OF GOD. "Leaves have their time to fall." They do not come and go at haphazard. They have lived, and now they fade and die, subject to His laws who sweetly ordereth all that is. The orderly return of the seasons tells how this is no haphazard world. God keeps His hand on all forces, material and spiritual.
II. OF FULFILLED PURPOSE. Just as neither their rise nor fall, their springing nor fading was accidental, so their life is not a vague, aimless thing. There was design in their creation, and as they silently sink to the earth they speak to us of a life's work done. What have they done?
1. They have given added charm and beauty to the world. Here is a mission we may all well covet to fill, and which we may all fill. Whatever our position in life, however poor or lowly, we may so be and live that this shall be morally a fairer world because we are in it.
2. By their shade and shelter they have rendered valuable service to man and beast. So many around us arc weary under the burden and heat of life's day. Many a struggling man, and many a frail, lonely, overwrought woman knows all too well what this life-weariness means. Let the mission of the leaves be ours.
3. They have played an important part in purifying the atmosphere. They say to us, "So live that when you fade and fall like us you may have done your part to make the world purer."
III. OF LIFE'S CLOSE.
(R. M. Spoor.)
1. That this state of frailty and vanity was not the original state of man, but the consequence of transgression.
2. That it is not his only state. There is another life to which the present is introductory, and in connection with which it should always be considered.
3. The vanity and brevity of the present life, if wisely improved, is advantageous with regard to the future. It furnishes us with no inconsiderable proof of a world to come.
4. This frail life, too, is continually guarded by a wise and tender Providence. Reflections: If life be like a fading leaf, let us regard it accordingly. Let it prevent despair. If life be short, thy troubles cannot, O Christian, be long. Let us also repress fear. It is little the most powerful can do, and before they strike they may fall.
(T. R. Stevenson.)1. He means, first, in regard of ceremonial performances that were without vigour and spirit of true devotion. There was no spirit in their legal performances. They were dead, empty things. Therefore when judgment came they were as leaves. So an idle, careless hearer, when judgment comes, all is as leaves.
2. So it is true in regard of mortality, the vanity of health and strength. We all as a leaf fade away when God's judgments come to nip us. Men are as leaves; as the leaves now in autumn fall, and there is a new generation in the spring.
3. For all idle performances, that have not a foundation in substantial piety, they are all as leaves.
( Sibbes, Richard, D. D.)I. LIKE THE FOLIAGE, WE FADE GRADUALLY. Little by little. Pain by pain. Less steady of limb. Sight not so clear. Ear not so alert. After awhile we take a staff. Then, after much resistance we come to spectacles. Instead of bounding into a vehicle, we are willing to be helped in. At last the octogenarian falls.
II. LIKE THE LEAF WE FADE, TO MAKE ROOM FOR OTHERS. Next year's forests will be as grandly foliaged as this. So, when we go others take our spheres. Do not be disturbed as you see good and great men die. When God takes one man away, He has another right back of him.
III. AS WITH THE LEAVES WE FADE AND FALL AMID MYRIADS OF OTHERS.
IV. AS WITH VARIETY OF APPEARANCE THE LEAVES DEPART, SO DO WE. You have noticed that some trees, at the first touch of frost, lose their beauty. So death smites many. There is no beauty in their departure. One sharp frost of sickness, or one blast of the cold waters and they are gone. No tinge of hope. No prophecy of heaven. Their spring was all abloom with bright prospects; their summer thick foliaged with opportunities; but October came and their glory went. But, thank God, that is not the way people always die. Tell me, on what day of all the year the leaves of the woodbine are as bright as they are to-day? So Christian character is never so attractive as in the dying hour.
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Homilist.But although spiritual decay may be the literal application of these words, they truly express the universal law of our mortal life.
I. THE LEAF FADES BY A NECESSARY LAW. There is no power that can keep the foliage on the tree. So we must decay. Man may and does dread death; he may and does seek to prolong life; but he cannot by any invention or art counteract that resistless law of decay that has swept all past generations to the dust, and that is day after day, and hour after hour, working out his dissolution.
II. THE LEAF FADES BY A GRADUAL PROCESS. So it is with life. In infancy, childhood, manhood, as well as old age, the fading process goes on. The gradualness of decay is a blessing. It allows time to prepare for the future. It prevents a stand-still in the machinery of the world's work.
III. THE LEAF FADES INTO ITS PRIMITIVE ELEMENTS. It is only organized dust. It falls and to dust it returns. So it is with man. These bodies will in a few years be trodden on by the beast or borne away by the winds. What a great variety there is in the foliage of nature. Some leaves are larger and decked in more lovely hues than others. Some grow in a richer soil, and are breathed on by more salubrious winds than others. But let a few weeks pass away and all these distinctions will be lost, all will be dust. It is ever so in society. We see there great variety. Some are in wealth, some in poverty; some in velvet, some in fustian; some in beauty, some in deformity; some in the pomp of power, and some in the misery of oppression. But let a few years pass round, and our princes and peasants, sovereigns and subjects, despots and serfs, masters and menials will be dust.
IV. THE LEAF FADES AS PREPARATORY TO A NEW LIFE. The leaf falls, but its place is soon supplied. It falls, in fact, because the new life, rising from the root, has pushed it off. So with us. We die, but others will step into our place, and the world will go on. The race will carry on its governments, its commerce, its literature, its religion, without our help. It may require our death, make our very death serve its interests. Let us, then, not be proud of our position.
V. THE LEAF FADES AS A PROGRESSIVE STAGE OF LIFE. The tree from which the leaf fell is not dead. It threw off the sere leaf to put on another and lovelier garment. As the vitality of the tree continues when the leaf falls, the life of man will remain when the body dies. And like the tree, that life will dress itself in another garb. I would call your attention to four states of mind existing in relation to this fact, one of which must be yours —
1. Unreasoning indifference. "Oh that men were wise that they would consider their latter end!"
2. Intellectual stoicism. There are some who look at death as the end of existence. It must be done, by reasoning down reason into folly, mind into matter, God into nature. How few can do this; and when they do it, have they rest?
3. Terrible foreboding.
4. Christian composure. Which of these states of mind in relation to our approaching mortality is the rational one? I need not ask which is the happiest one; that is obvious.
(Homilist.)1 Corinthians 15:51): — We know how many signs and symptoms there are in life which suggest the truthfulness of the figure. You cannot take a hill now as once you could. It makes your breathing v, burden, and the slightest incline wearies and tires you out. It all means the fading leafs Your eyes are giving you trouble. The glasses that served you ten years ago are of little use to you now. It is the fading leaf! You very frequently have to ask your friends to repeat their words. You are inclined to think it is because they mumble and murmur their speech. Nay, it is the fading leaf! There is your memory. Lately it has begun to play tricks with you, a thing it has never done before. It is the fading leaf! All these are signs, common signs, that the prime has been reached, that the leaf has begun to fade. "We all do fade as a leaf!" Such is the Old Testament conception of life — a fading leaf. Is it a complete conception, or is it only partial and fragmentary? It is the conception of the Old Testament, is it the conception of the New? So far I have only given you one half of my text. Now let me give you the other half. I have taken it from Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians: "We shall all be changed." Now put the two conceptions side by side. "We all do fade as a leaf; "We shall all be changed." The Old Testament prophet looked upon men and women who were beginning to feel the weaknesses and infirmities of age, and he said, "They are beginning to fade." The New Testament prophet looked upon men and women becoming burdened with similar weaknesses, and he ,s, aid, "They are beginning to change." "Fading" is the Old Testament word; changing is the word of the New; and in the two words you will find the characteristic differences in the two conceptions. One looks at the body; the other looks at the soul. Here is a flower-bud, in its early stages encased in its wondrous sheath of green. After a while the sheath begins to open, to turn back, to droop and to die. Isaiah looks at the drooping sheath, and says, "Fading." Paul looks at the unfolding flower, and says, "Changing." One looks at the body which can fade; the other looks at the soul, the unfolding life, which can change but never fade. One looks at the vesture, the other looks at the man. Now we know which is the Christian standpoint. Christianity warns us again and again not to confuse the man's body with the man, but always to distinguish between them, and to make the distinction a vital and influential article of our faith. When some, one has passed away, the inquiry is often made by one friend of another, When are they going to bury him? Bury him? Never! He cannot be buried! He is not here to be buried; he is risen! Bury him? No, you bury it; you bury his body, you bury that which has faded; you cannot bury the man. "Well, why not make that distinction as real in speech, as it ought to be real in faith? I am told that "Mr. So-and-So is in a decline. What do you mean? Do you mean that the man's body is declining, or the man? Immediately you reply, "The man's body.' Then why not keep the distinction to the front, that when little children hear you speak, they may catch one of the cardinal doctrines of your faith. The New Testament always keeps the two distinct. It speaks of the body, the flesh, as a house; it speaks of the spirit, the soul, as its tenant. The same distinction is made by another figure. The New Testament describes my body as a robe. Look at that. Here are outer garments of cotton and wool. Then there is another garment of flesh. And then there is the soul, the man, the woman! That is the Christian conception — the flesh is the garment, it is not the man! Tell your children that growing old and infirm just means that the flesh garment is getting worse for wear, and that the soul is preparing for itself another garment that will never wear out, a spiritual garment, a garment of immortality and light! Tell them that death just means that the spirit has dropped its old clothes, its robe of flesh, and has clothed itself with the garment that is from heaven. This is a beautiful conception, this apostolic conception of change. It takes our eyes away from the temporal and fixes them upon the eternal. It takes the emphasis away from the fading body and fixes it upon the changing spirit.
(J. H. Jowett, M. A.)I. IN THE MUTE ORGANS OF THE FADED LEAVES IS A TENDER WARNING. God turns every hill-side and meadow into an allegory. The tiny little monarch grappled with life, captured the forces of nature, and vigorously ministered all summer. But feebleness is creeping over it, it grows weary, its lustre is fading, nerves waxing weak. It rustles, it trembles in the gentle zephyr, and the, falls. "As the flowers of the field, so man floursheth." How tenderly God begins to warn us of the coming king of terrors. Each leaf carries its own secrets, giving no premonition which shall first fade. So tender is God's mighty providence I No harsh voice calls out, Set throe house in order, for thou shalt die and not live. The messenger comes in a little rheum, a periodic pain, a little exhaustion of breath, fainting moments, the love of ease, the failing of memory, and little changes in the disposition. God hides the grim visage of fatality under shadows. But the angel of death is absolutely there.
II. ON THE LEAF TWO FORCES ARE EVER AT WORK: THE VITALIZING OR ORGANIZING, AND THE DISSOLVING OR DECAYING. The coal-beds of the earth tell the story of the battles of these powers contending for the supremacy. There are the generations of the faded and fallen, metamorphosed, petrified, stratified. There are some leaves whose very luxury causes them to decay. This is one of the mysteries of life among men. The brilliant geniuses endowed with courage to inspire, intelligence to enlighten, and sensibility to refine, being first misunderstood and then misrepresented, contradicted, or embittered by neglect, their very richness of soul and fatness of mind cause them to sicken under the pale hand of languor. There are some gorgeous leaves which carry in themselves the beauty of the blossom and leaf together. They die early. There is the young scholar, gorgeous in intellect, prematurely ripening. His youth is adorned with loveliness. Of the wealth of his graces we have but the prophecy in the bud. He has a face like a cherub, and God sends His angel to pluck it while it is unsullied by the scorching sun or the chills of autumn. At the other extreme is gorgeous old age.
III. There is a process of — injecting colour into the fibres of plants to make them bright or sombre, as one may wish. Thus affected, THE LEAVES FADE DIFFERENTLY. There in also a method of inoculating the life of man. To the character can be given the bright tints of pleasure as of those who delight in goodness. When the heart is inoculated with the graces of Christ the perspective of the character is determined, the somber shades of despondency are transfigured. Some leaves are flabby and develop a gloomy, morbid colour. They wither and decay as unsightly things. Except for the grace of God, men born in a murky moral atmosphere gather cloudiness and opacity as they grow older and perish in gloom. Some leaves are beautiful from first to last. Like Samuel, they are dedicated from birth to a whole life in the ministry of goodness. Such is many a Christian life. The innocency of youth is beautified b a gracious spirit. Middle life comes on in the strength of a righteous character.
IV. LEAVES IN FADING DEVELOP SPECIFIC CHARACTERISTICS. Each species has its peculiar tints. This represents the racial types of men in the development of their spiritual or mental traits. When they come to fade and to die the individual trends of character come forth in colours widely differing. The fatalism of the Chinaman is joyless and fearless, a dogged indifference. The pantheism of the Brahmin brings its devotee to sink into a gradual sleep, a dull withering. The Mohammedan, whose heaven is sensual, has spasms of fearful passion. The Catholic, who has been taught that ceremonies save him, in dying eagerly longs for a priest, a cross, or extreme unction. The agnostic comes to his end glowing in the white heat of apprehension. The true Christian has the face of one going home. Again, family groups have their differentiation. On a given tree, all the leaves are fashioned after a common type in colour, form, and texture. But as they grow they acquire individual oddities. Even so, one family of people, nurtured by the sap of a common civilization, develop the most striking idiosyncrasies.
V. THERE IS NO DISGRACE IN FADING. Grey hairs area crown of glory when they are anointed with goodness. If we have made good use of the sunshine, if the fruit of our labour hangs in clusters on the vine, if in God's vineyard we have faithfully ministered, then the fading tints are our laurels. The fading shows two powers. The spirit that animates the form is preparing the old trunk for dissolution. Yet while it unties the twisted cords of earthly life it lifts up the affections, dislodging the corruptible from the incorruptible, the mortal from the immortal, and spiritualizes the mind. In one case the man goes on walking with God until the fire of the flesh dies out, and the spirit is left aglowing. In the other, passions may burn the soul into a cinder. Richness in fading leaves is not an accident. It depends on sunshine, atmosphere and soil. The beauty of age is the fruit of right character. It is the result of effort.
VI. The leaf fades, falls, and becomes buried. But IN THE CORE OF THE RIPE LEAF WHILE PULSATING IN THE SUNLIGHT, A JOYOUS YET MYSTERIOUS SOMETHING PASSES THROUGH THE STEM TO THE TWIG UPON THE STURDY BOUGH. It leaves there a scar, the sign of the leafs immortality, a nucleus of the new life to bud in the resurrection of the spring. Among leaves are four degrees of future life. The first but lightly marks the place of its departure, a mere trace as of a tear on a cheek not washed. Inward life swells the branch and its memory is blotted out. The second class leaves a scar which is not effaced, but no active life will come out of its grave. The third will raise a little knoll and stamp its epitaph indelibly as by a signet. No luxury of growth or biting frost can remove it. These little monuments are the geometric scales on the bark of the palm and the fern. The fourth class not only scar the tree, but leave behind the conditions of a new germ which will bud and become a new branch. Here is a perfect emblem of four classes of men. The first is the class who live only to themselves. The second class are generous, liberal-hearted, and full of noble deeds. They have a memory in their own times, but die with those who had personal knowledge of them. The third class send down their roots into the soil of future generations. They in-web their deeds in the fibre of history. They build institutions of charity, bequeath to posterity resources which will develop a better manhood. They are a sort of lepidodendron leaves. Their scale-marks are fixed. The fourth class inspire new buds. They are the great thinkers. Out of them come new branches of civilization. But some leaves have a small eternity. Thousands of years ago they built great forests and bogs. They faded and fell. Earthquake catastrophes buried them, and their graves are the coal-beds. To-day they have a resurrection. The sun-power caught by the leaves millions of years ago, to-day warms our homes, lights our streets, and creates thousands of industries for the elevation of man.
(T. Parry, D. D.)
I. THE CAUSES OF HUMAN DECAY. Why should not man, and everything connected with him, be immortal?
1. His present state seems to support a date to its existence. He is a member of a mortal world, and its entire economy seems to suppose and inexorably to work out his mortality. Everything announces its own dissolution. The granite rock, which you would look upon as indestructible, at length gives way, and crumbling down, forms the very soil you till. So, too, in the vegetable world, whether among the frosts of the polar regions, or amid the unvarying warmth of tropical climes. Thus, also, is it in the animal kingdom. Here, everything is limited in its capabilities of life and growth.
2. Life has its friction which tasks its powers and wears them out.
3. Then, with the friction of a life of toil comes often the severe discipline of a life of care, vexation and disappointed hopes.
4. But more common and trying than even this is the discipline of pain to which life on earth is subject.
5. But there is still one more waster of life on earth. Sinful pleasure sets its saddest seal upon the swollen or wasted, the scarred and the disgraced form that comes under its blighting touch. 'Tis sad to see the beautiful plant, which you have nurtured with care, struck with frost before its time; but how much more saddening to see the human form disfigured even in the days of its south and strength by sinful excesses!
II. THE CERTAINTY OF HUMAN DECAY. How certainly our life on earth fades and decays, we may learn from the variety and the constant action of those causes of decay which we have now noticed. The law of nature under which we live is an inexorable law; and this law works out our decay.
III. THE RESULTS OF THIS UNCEASING, THIS INEVITABLE PROCESS.
1. Human beauty decays.
2. Human activity flags.
3. Human strength fails.
4. The human intellect fails. The intellect we believe immortal; yet it is true that in this world that intellect is dependent upon physical organs for its successful exertions, and still more so for the manifestation of its power. All old men arc obliged to show, if not confess, that they can no longer think and plan as they could in the days of their strength.
5. Human affections feel and show this withering process.
6. One other step only is yet to be taken in this journey of decay. That leaf, which for days has been turning pale, clinging still, though tremblingly, to its hold on life, at last falls, not only faded, but dead. And so, too, is it to be with us.
(E. B. Huntington.)
(A. P. Peabody.)
Our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
( Sibbes, Richard, D. D.)
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